|Cameron pledged to toughen rhetoric from ministers who too often shied away from strong moral standards [AFP]|
David Cameron, Britain’s prime minister, has said that his government will work to mend Britain’s “broken society” and fight against its “moral collapse” to prevent a repeat of the country’s worst riots in decades.
“This has been a wake-up call for our country,” Cameron said on Monday, a week after days of riots left five people dead, thousands facing criminal charges and at least $326m in property losses.
More than 2,800 people have been arrested since a protest over the fatal shooting of a suspect by police prompted rioting and looting in London, which spread across the capital and led to violence in other English towns and cities.
Cameron said his coalition government would outline new policies designed to tackle a culture of laziness, irresponsibility and selfishness which he believes fuelled Britain’s unrest.
He also pledged to toughen rhetoric from ministers and officials, who he claimed had too often shied away from promoting strong moral standards.
His government would no longer be timid in discussing family breakdown or poor parenting, or in criticising those who failed to set a good example to their community.
“Social problems that have been festering for decades have exploded in our face,” Cameron told an audience at a youth centre in Witney, his Parliamentary district in southern England.
“Just as people last week wanted criminals robustly confronted on our street, so they want to see these social problems taken on and defeated,” he said.
Cameron insisted that racial tensions, poverty and the government’s austerity programme were not the motivations for the riots across London and other major cities.
Criminality and a lack of personal responsibility were at the roots of the disorder, Cameron said, pledging that the government would intervene to help 120,000 of the country’s most troubled families.
“One of the biggest lessons of these riots is that we’ve got to talk honestly about behaviour and then act – because bad behaviour has literally arrived on people’s doorsteps. And we can’t shy away from the truth anymore,” he said.
Cameron said Britain’s damaged society had for too long been one which “incites laziness, that excuses bad behaviour, that erodes self-discipline, that discourages hard work”.
Amid recklessness by bankers, the politicians’ expense cheque scandal, and media phone hacking saga, Cameron also acknowledged that all sectors of society had a share of the blame.
|Click for special coverage on the riots in the UK|
“Moral decline and bad behaviour is not limited to a few of the poorest parts of our society. In the highest offices, the plushest boardrooms, the most influential jobs, we need to think about the example we are setting,” Cameron said.
In a rival speech, main opposition Labour Party leader Ed Miliband criticised Cameron’s plans and demanded that politicians focus less on blame, and more on delivering better opportunities for young people.
“The usual politicians’ instinct – announce a raft of new legislation, appoint a new adviser, wheel out your old prejudices and shallow answers – will not meet the public’s demand,” Miliband said.
He spoke at his former school in Camden, north London, half a block from the scene of intense rioting on August 8, when shops were trashed and police came under attack.
“Does it matter whether young people feel they have a future, a chance of a better life? Yes it does,” he said.
“Are issues like education and skills, youth services, youth unemployment important for diverting people away from gangs, criminality, the wrong path? Yes. They matter.”
On Sunday, several hundred residents of Birmingham, England’s second-largest city, rallied for peace and racial unity in memory of three Muslim men who were run over and killed during last week’s riots there.
Birmingham police have charged two men in their 20s and a 17-year-old with the murders of Haroon Jahan, 20, and brothers Shazad Ali, 30, and Abdul Musavir, 31.
The attack raised fears of gang warfare between the area’s South Asian and Caribbean gangs because residents identified the car-borne assailants as black. But public appeals for no retaliation, particularly from one victim’s father, Tariq Jahan, have helped to keep passions at bay.